Archie Skimmerhorn

February 4, 2013

The prosecution will further attempt to prove that the next morning Skimmerhorn was found in a shed in an alley on the north side of the SP tracks with his skull crushed and his face hacked beyond all semblance of a human face.  The murder was committed with an axe and at that time there was no clue to the murderer.  

Later in the day, following the discovery of the crime, George Jim was arrested.   He had blood on his clothing and he was the last person seen with Skimmerhorn when he was alive.  He was taken to the county jail and there he denied knowing anything of the crime but later at a preliminary hearing made a confession. 

The defense will attempt to prove, it is believed from the line of examination of jurors conducted by Attorney Williams, that George Jim is a stupid uneducated Indian, far below the ordinary Indian in intellect, and that he was so intoxicated on the night of the crime that if he did kill Archie Skimmerhorn he did not know what he was doing.

Reno (Nevada) Evening Gazette, May 24, 1910

 

March 20, 1910, was a Sunday night.   On the evening of March 20 Archie Skimmerhorn was drinking in a shed behind the Grand Hotel in downtown Reno, Nevada. The Grand Hotel was operated by a man named Dan O’Keefe, and was also referred to as Dan O’Keefe’s hotel.  Reno was a city of 10,000 souls at that time, more than double its population ten years earlier but still a small town.  Skimmerhorn was drinking in the shed because Indians were not allowed to drink in the hotel bar; in fact, selling alcohol to an Indian was prohibited by Nevada state law as well as by local ordinance. Skimmerhorn and another Indian and a white man were drinking in the shed, they said, and periodically they would give the white man a dollar and he would go into the hotel and purchase some liquor.

Sometime after midnight Skimmerhorn was murdered. The Reno Chief of Police, a man named Burke, became aware of the murder the next morning; he testified that as he arrived at the scene of the crime, a Chinese porter from the hotel was in the process of washing the blood off the axe with a wet rag.  A cook from the hotel named Gee Sing was sleeping in the alley near the scene of the murder. He said he had seen and heard nothing.

The Skimmerhorn family was identified in first reports as "Skimhorn".  According to the Nevada State Journal, March 22, 1910, "The mother of Skimhorn, who lives in a cabin out north of the university, was loud in her lamentations all day yesterday. When Officers Duncan and Devenconzi went out they found her shrieking in grief and shedding tears incessantly. John Skimhorn, the father of the murdered man, was broken down yesterday at the sight of his son’s mutilated body. He was at the city hall, sober, at about 3; and at 4:30 Officers Duncan and Millhouse were called to the Rock Street bridge with the patrol wagon, and found the old man crying incoherently, trying to throw himself into the water despite the efforts of two other sons of his, and roaring drunk on clear grain alcohol, of which he had a half-emptied bottle."

A man named Jesse Cook, a known associate of the dead man, was arrested on the morning after the crime.  Hours later another Indian, identified in the testimony only as "Clifford", brought George Jim into the police station, and pointed out to the officers that there were bloodstains on Jim’s clothing, apparently quite a lot of them.  There were bloodstains on his shoes, his coat, his shirt, and his trousers. He wore a wide-brimmed hat, and there were bloodstains on the top of the hat.  Police interviewed George Jim, and bullied him into making a confession.  Later, during the trial, police were cross-examined as to whether they had bullied Jim into the confession, and of course they denied that they had. Jesse Cook was released, and Jim went on trial for the murder in late May.   According to the Nevada State Journal, May 26, 1910:

Jesse Cook, another Indian, was the principle and most interesting witness. He understood the questions asked and answered them intelligibly, the squabbles between the lawyers serving most to disconcert him. 

And also:

A number of spectators, several stylishly gowned women among them, sat in the courtroom at intervals during the day.

All seemed anxious to hear the more gruesome testimony, and there was much craning of necks and gasps of horror when George Jim’s clothes with the alleged bloodstains were introduced in evidence. 

 

Presumably human blood. The University of Nevada was in Reno, walking distance from the scene of the crime, and the bloody clothes were given to a Professor Dinsmore, who was supposed to ascertain whether or not the blood was human. Professor Dinsmore confirmed that it was blood, but lacked the facilities and the time to distinguish whether this was human blood or otherwise.

These were Piute Indians, a subgroup of the Shoshone, related to the Aztecs. None of the Piutes connected to this story spoke English fluently or was comfortable speaking English, but all used Anglicized names.  The Chief of the Piutes, who will enter our story later, was called simply "Captain Dave". The Piutes lived in a self-contained settlement within walking distance of downtown Reno.  There were also Washoe Indians living in Reno. The Washoe were an entirely distinct tribe, speaking an entirely different language, and living in a different village in the same area.   Relations between the Washoe and the Piutes were often less than friendly.

George Jim was vigorously defended by his Attorney, Williams, who, contrary to the expectations of the press, did not argue that Jim was a stupid Indian. Williams came at the police investigation with everything he had, and when that was done he recalled Jesse Cook to the stand as a character witness. Cook testified that earlier in his life Archie Skimmerhorn had been a good Indian—his words, not mine—but that he had begun to drink whisky, that he was almost always drunk, and that he had become a bad Indian, and that he was dangerous.

There were two railroad lines through downtown Reno, the Southern Pacific and the Nevada-California-Oregon.  Jim had testified in a preliminary hearing that after the murder he had walked up the tracks of the N-C-O to Jesse Cook’s house, and from there had gone on to his own cabin.

After a two-day trial Jim was convicted of the murder. The conviction was set aside by the trial judge, however, after said judge ruled that the "confession" was not voluntary, that it had in fact been coerced from the accused. A new trial was scheduled, but Jim returned to court on August 8, 1910, and pled guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter.   According to the Reno Evening Gazette, August 9, Jim’s "attorney says that he believes that it is a good thing that he has to go to the penitentiary instead of being turned loose as he believes the friends of the dead Indian would kill him if he had his liberty. George Jim in growing fat in prison and is in all probability happier in jail than he would be out on the street hustling for something to eat."

The comment about the associates of Archie Skimmerhorn seeking vengeance proved prophetic.    Six weeks later the body of Jesse Cook was found floating in a canal. Two men, Frank Skimmerhorn and Charlie Tom, were arrested and charged with murdering Cook. Frank Skimmerhorn was Archie’s younger brother. The allegation was that Cook had been murdered because he had something to do with the murder of Archie. Frank Skimmerhorn, Charlie Tom and Jesse Cook had been seen by numerous people at the rear of the Grand Hotel, having a loud argument within five feet of the spot where Archie had been murdered a few months previous.  Skimmerhorn acknowledged that he had threatened Cook’s life during that dispute.   

Continuing with the theme of relentless naked racism, the Nevada State Journal reported on September 29 that the two men were locked up "and the dead man’s squaw is also being held.  Nearly a score of redskins, arrested Tuesday night and yesterday, were released last evening after proving alibis." 

And also:

Cook was threatened by his tribesmen for testifying against Jim, but persisted in doing so, although he admitted his fear of the George Jim faction. The Skimmerhorns also hated Cook, and a lurking suspicion has always existed with them as to Cook’s part in the commitment of the crime. 

After being held several days in jail Frank Skimmerhorn had an emotional breakdown in the middle of the night, and screamed for his jailers. Crying uncontrollably, he accused his father and brother of having murdered Cook. 

His father and brother were both named John Skimmerhorn, actually John and Johnnie. Police now took the entire Skimmerhorn family into custody, and questioned them in an effort to sort out the facts. Frank’s sister Mary supported Frank’s version; eventually his mother would as well. The Reno Evening Gazette quoted John Skimmerhorn Sr. as saying "No beleevum boy and girl.   Heap big fools those two."  Eventually Johnnie Skimmerhorn stepped forward to take responsibility for the crime, while a judge prohibited the mother of the clan from testifying against her husband, provoking the release of the elder John.

The Evening Gazette finally claimed the Racist Journalism Gold Medal on October 15, when they opened their coverage of Johnnie’s preliminary hearing with these words:

The police court room this morning reeked with the odors of sagebrush and dried fish and unsoaped aboriginadom when the preliminary examination of Skimmerhorn father and son was conducted by Justice of the Peace Lee J. Davis.

The room was filled with Indians in the brightest array, but as silent as the Sphinx.   Apparently there was no feeling in the matter, for the countenances were immobile and stolid, while not a word was whispered each to each and seemingly the proceedings were a bore."

Mary Skimmerhorn was held in custody and compelled to testify against her brother, although she had stated that she would commit suicide before she would do so. While she was on the stand a fire gong sounded, and the building was emptied. When the trial resumed she had bolted, and could not be found.   The newspaper reported that "all sorts of white and red detectives are on her trail."   She was trailed through the hills around Reno by Native American trackers, and eventually found by the trackers, returned to Reno, and forced to return to the stand.  Johnnie Skimmerhorn was indicted, and a trial was scheduled for mid-December.

As the trial began, Captain Dave went to the local newspapers to try to set the record straight.  Captain Dave’s words were taken seriously, and he was treated by the newspapers with great respect.   What he said was more or less assumed to be true.

Captain Dave said that George Jim was an innocent man, that the first murder had in fact been committed by Jesse Cook. He said that he had been told this by both Cook’s wife, and by Jim’s wife. He said that Jim did strike Skimmerhorn with the axe after he was already dead, as a kind of symbolic participation in the crime.   

As the trial was set to open, the charge was reduced to manslaughter, and Johnnie Skimmerhorn pled guilty to manslaughter.  The Reno Evening Gazette in this era never says who wrote any story, but the account of the plea agreement on December 20, 1910, certainly seems to have been written by a different reporter:

The district judge then accepted the plea, but wishing to hear from the accused Indian direct, called Captain Dave, the Bismark of the Piutes, before the bar to act as an interpreter.   "Ask him," said Judge Moran, "if he wants to plead guilty to manslaughter."  Captain David, the white haired old man who is Chief of the Piute tribe, turned to the boy sitting by his side and said something in the Piute language.   He then turned to the district judge and said, "Johnnie say he kill Jesse Cook in night time and that no one help him."  Not satisfied with this statement, the judge again asked Captain Dave to interrogate the accused red man and see whether or not he was willing to plead guilty to manslaughter.   Again Captain Dave spoke to Johnnie Skimmerhorn, and again the accused Indian responded.   This time he said through the interpreter:  "Yes, I kill him all alone.  I do it all in the night time."   District Attorney Woodburn then explained to Captain Dave what was wanted and the interpreter finally got a statement from Johnnie Skimmerhorn that he was willing to plead guilty to manslaughter.   For this crime he can be sentenced to serve from one to ten years in the Nevada penitentiary."

 

He was sentenced to nine years. 

Gee Sing, the cook at the Grand hotel who was interviewed by reporters on the morning after the first murder, the murder of Archie Skimmerhorn, was arrested in December on a charge of illegally providing liquor to two Washoe Indians. Very probably it was Sing who had purchased the alcohol which had fueled the original incident. 

George Jim and Johnnie Skimmerhorn were both granted parole and released from the Nevada state penitentiary in 1914.

 

I got interested in this story because, until months into the story, I thought it was possible that Archie Skimmerhorn had in fact been murdered by The Man From the Train. Ultimately, following this story to the end, we know that this is untrue. However, I thought that it was an interesting story in itself, and I thought I would share it with you.

This is wholly irrelevant, but in my High School there were 68 students in four grades. About half of the 68 were Native Americans, and one of those was a very quiet young man named Martin Jim. Martin Jim hardly ever spoke; he communicated mostly in smiles and hand gestures.

If you’re ever in Washington, DC, you can go by the Vietnam Memorial Wall, and you can find Martin’s name.  I don’t suppose you will shed a tear when you see the name there, but I certainly did.

 
 

COMMENTS (9 Comments, most recent shown first)

bjames
The policy of this website is to be respectful of the views of others at all times. We've never had to kick anyone off the site for failing to do this, and we would prefer to keep it that way.
12:18 PM Feb 11th
 
shthar
Nah, Norm Chomsky was on the pirates.

His brother Phil was on the Reds.
6:25 PM Feb 10th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Norm Chomsky? Didn't he play third base for the Reds?
6:17 AM Feb 10th
 
rgregory1956
Izzy, don't get too comfortable. My 43-year old grandfather, with a wife and 2 young children, got drafted in 1918.
7:27 AM Feb 9th
 
mauimike
I've never heard a soldier call him or herself a neoconservative. Perhaps I should have said chickhawk. You know the guys like Rush, Bill Bennett, Dick Cheney etc., who where never in, but love to send other guys to fight. There's a different reason for each person who joins. One example was Pat Tillman, he was a big fan of Norm Chomsky. Ron Paul, got more money from soldiers than all the other Presidential candidates. Take my word for it, you don't want to get drafted and I was never in any danger.
11:49 PM Feb 7th
 
izzy24
Maui, don't most of our military men and women vote conservatively?
I'm sure many military men and women would consider themselves neoconservatives.

Also, aren't we all technically exempt from military service now? I don't expect to be drafted anytime soon.
10:43 AM Feb 6th
 
mauimike
A good man down. For what? So the chickenhawks...can screech for more wars...that they won't fight. Now that women can be in combat, the only ones in America who are exempt from the battlefield are the neocons.
4:35 AM Feb 6th
 
bjames
I would have a picture from a High School yearbook. I don't have the technical skills to scan the photo and send to them, but we have a strong alumni group, and I'll get somebody to do it. Thanks.​
11:59 PM Feb 4th
 
izzy24
Hi Bill. Very interesting article. I found a "Martin Jim Jr" from Kansas on this Vietnam Memorial Site: http://www.vvmf.org/thewall/Wall_Id_No=25895

I don't know if you have a picture of him in a yearbook anywhere (or if this is the same Martin Jim) but the site doesn't have a picture for him. Just thought you might be interested.

Thanks for the article.
4:09 PM Feb 4th
 
 
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